In response to Kevin Richert’s recent series of articles about the state’s efforts to increase the college enrollment rate, I would like to point out some of the downsides.
So what exactly are we getting for our money and why are we asking students to miss their college classes in order to take a college entrance exam? Over the past few years I have posed those questions to local school district administrators, local school board members, members of the Idaho State Board of Education, and members of the Senate Education Committee. So far none of them have responded to my inquiry as to evidence of the benefit to the students of Idaho, or if these required assessments have had an increase in the college admissions rate among Idaho students. I urged those that I spoke with to request that the state study this prior to negotiating a new contract with the College Board. It would be nice to know that the time and energy that is required of school staff is worth the cost and effort; not to mention the lost instructional time for the students.
One of the greatest time consuming aspects of the Advanced Opportunities program is the monitoring of those students who choose to take Dual Credit courses. The process is extremely time consuming. As I write this, I have approximately 70 high school seniors who will be starting their spring semester college classes a week after the winter break. Of those, at least 55 of them have yet to provide me with their college schedule even though most of them registered for classes in November and early December. So short of me reviewing each of their schedules individually over the break, (assuming I had access to all of their college schedules) or during the week after I return, there is no way for me to confirm that they are in the classes that they need to fulfill all of the high school graduation requirements in time for them to make any necessary changes to their schedules. Additionally, students who take at least one class at the college and others on the high school campus impact the class sizes on campus since their schedules must be adjusted to fit the college courses that they chose to take.
There is other, yet rarely talked about, fallout of students attempting classes for which they are not prepared; low grades and withdrawing from courses. Every semester school counselors meet with a growing number of students and their parents to discuss taking online and/or Dual Credit classes. Sometimes the lure of free money is the primary motivational factor in the family’s decision. Too often those students are not academically prepared for the additional coursework which results in them failing or withdrawing from these courses. Student’s will end up paying for the same course twice if they don’t retake the failed course during the following semester. Additionally, any Dual Credit course attempted will remain on the student’s college transcript. There is great potential for a high school student to be placed on academic probation at the college before ever finishing high school as a result of not maintaining the proper college GPA. Additionally, any previously attempted college course is not eligible for Financial Aid consideration when the student retakes it after graduating from high school. So not only will the student have to take more courses in order to reach full time status for financial aid, the student will have to pay full price for a college class that probably should have never been attempted in high school.
So far there has been no demonstrated benefit of requiring all high school students to take a college entrance exam. The Advanced Opportunities program is a terrific benefit for some students, but not without a number of potential risks. It has also created a huge workload for many people including those who work for the Department of Education. It would be good if the people who are making the decisions about the future of the programs would spend more time talking with the people who are tasked with carrying out the mandate in order to make improvements that will benefit all concerned.
Written by Rick Jones, a counselor at Coeur d’Alene High for the past 12 years. Since moving to Idaho in 2005, he was a student services coordinator at North Idaho College. Prior to that he was a high school counselor in San Diego after retiring from the United States Coast Guard in 2001.